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Europe

Europe Willing to Boost Civilian Aid to Afghanistan

The United States would like to see European states send more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. The EU's foreign ministers have said they're ready to help, but that more soldiers are not necessarily the answer.

Police sit at a table in a training session in Kabul, Afghanistan

The EU has promised to send more police trainers to Afghanistan

The European Union has launched programs in Afghanistan to help train police and judges to do their jobs. It’s these types of programs that European leaders are committed to supporting. At the same time, there's much less enthusiasm among the EU's foreign ministers for sending troops to fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

"There are ways of cooperating on Afghan's stability apart from just by the military," the bloc's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 23.

Solana said the EU could do more to assist Afghanistan, but not with military means. He was backed by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

"I personally think we should work more in the civilian sector," Schwarzenberg said.

Europe has promised more involvement

Two German soldiers on patrol in near Kunduz

Germany is one of the few EU countries promising to send more soldiers

Yet even on those commitments, there's some concern that Europe is dragging its feet.

Currently, EU countries participate in a German-led policing mission and an Italian justice mission in Afghanistan.

EU states promised last year to double the size of the German-led police training mission. But the bloc has held back, waiting to see how the new US administration will approach Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama is reviewing US strategy in Afghanistan ahead of a NATO summit meeting in early April.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there was no need to wait for a US strategy review before doing more.

"We should do our job, and part of this job and the commitments we took is the training of police," he said.

Afghan elections pose security problem

Germany made the biggest pledge at the recent NATO meeting, offering to send 600 more soldiers. The troops will join around 3,500 German personnel already in Afghanistan.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb confirmed in Brussels that his country was ready to double its troop numbers in Afghanistan from 100 to 200. Yet the US would like even more help.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently urged NATO allies to provide more forces to fight the Taliban.

Hand of a female election worker in Kabul writing on a ballot

Security is a concern ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections

NATO officials fear that security will become an even more urgent problem in Afghanistan in the months leading up to the country's presidential elections, which are scheduled for August.

German troops are set to arrive six weeks before the polls and remain until after any possible second round of voting is held in September.

The EU wants to ensure voting in Afghanistan goes smoothly, Schwarzenberg said.

"Ministers agreed now was the right time to examine urgently options for increasing European support to the people and government of Afghanistan," he said.

The EU is considering sending an observer mission to Afghanistan to monitor the voting in August, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Author: Trinity Hartman (afp/reuters)

Editor: Nick Amies

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